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Ayanlaja: Tribute to an extraordinary lawyer

It came as a severe shock to me when I learned of the passing of my former boss, Mr. Olatunji Ayanlaja, SAN on July 26, 2022. Until his death, he was one of the founding partners of Ayanlaja Adesanya Company & Co. I am writing this tribute to an extraordinary lawyer. I joined Ayanlaja, Adesanya and Co. in January 1987 as the firm’s first full-time attorney. In Chambers was Deji Balogun, now Hon. Judge Deji Balogun who was serving as a junior corper. The job was heaven and my long wait had paid off as my monthly salary of 750 Naira was much higher than the 400-500 Naira my colleagues who got jobs earlier were earning. Mr. Ayanlaja was a very experienced and knowledgeable practitioner. There was so much to learn from him; his dapper dress, work culture, charisma, dress, class, research methods, analytical skills, attention to detail, oratory skills, tenacity, confidence and hard work.

We used to hold the cabinet meeting on Fridays and we had to read the Nigeria Law Weekly Reports (NWLR) for each week before the meeting as Mr. Ayanlaja and Mr. Adesanya briefed us on the recent decisions in the report. We all absorbed punctuality as a virtue as Mr. Ayanlaja was always in the office at 7:30 every day without fail except he wasn’t there and you had no excuse for coming late. Mr. Seyi Akinwunmi (now Deputy Chairman of the Football Federation of Nigeria) and Honorable Justice Sola Williams (Nee Ilori) later joined the firm. I remember on one occasion we were preparing paperwork for a call, and I left the office at 10:30 p.m. The next morning I was back in the office at 7:00. When I arrived, Mr. Ayanlaja greeted me and said to me in Yoruba: “Ayo, you left very early yesterday”, I smiled. This was the work ethic of Ayanlaja Adesanya & Co, and it has stuck with me to this day.

There is no shortcut, you had to do extensive research and leave no stone unturned. Mr. Ayanlaja would usually hand you a big file and he would just write the words “Please process”. To know what to “deal with”, one had to read the file consecutively to retrace the history of the case, the nature of the dispute, the current situation and the next course of action.

After identifying the next course of action, you had to prepare a worthwhile process for Mr. Ayanlaja’s review. There was usually a lot of back and forth with Mr. Ayanlaja because he just wrote on your draft “Not Satisfactory”. You didn’t know exactly what was “unsatisfactory”, you just had to figure it out until he approved the process. His style gave us a clear understanding of the process, the legal requirements for the type of claim you were making, the pleadings, what you need to prove to succeed, and the defences. Bullen & Leake was a regular reference because your pleadings must conform to the standard of authors. His approach gave us confidence and boldness in court that we had met all legal requirements down to the smallest detail. I still follow these precepts to this day.

Mr. Olatunji Ayanlaja, who took up silk in 1995 was a colossus in the legal profession in Nigeria. An extraordinary lawyer. An essential avocado that you can put to sleep if you had it in your corner. He was a fierce and fearless fighter. He has been involved in many landmark and novel cases that are frequently cited by lawyers and judges. Some of them include: Saraki v. Kotoye (1992) 9 NWLR, Pt. 264 p 156, Inakoju v. Adeleke (2007) 4 NWLR, Pt. 1025, Stanbic IBTC Bank v. Long Term Global Capital Ltd & Ors. (2017) 18 NWLR Pt. 1598 p431, RE: Ladoja (2006) LPELR-7655 and Ijebu-Ode Local Government Council v. Segun & Ors. (2011) LPELR-4290. Mr. Ayanlaja has lived a very meaningful life. He positively propelled all who crossed his path to excellence in the legal profession and distinction in all walks of life. GOODBYE! Mr. Olatunji Ayanlaja, SAN – Rest in peace my dear boss.

  • Akintunde (C.Arb, FBR) is a senior lawyer from Nigeria